Christian love stories. Not a genre I usually read. Perhaps it goes back to childhood. My father forbid me to watch soap operas or read love stories. He contended they made women overly emotional. I've got to say, he had a point. I've watched friends, nieces, and some of my daughter's acquaintances who are secular soap and romance fans. The drama they create in real life is embarrassing, ridiculous, and destructive.Does it have to be that way? What is it that separates Christian romance from general market?
Of course, there is the lack of sex. Today's Christian romance can admit the existence of sex and sexual attraction without characters indulging in it. There are some who would claim that isn't realistic. Some also claim it's unrealistic to have a trucker who doesn't swear or a dock loader who isn't a neanderthal. Yet in the real world—by that, I mean the world as I experience it—truckers and dock loaders can be followers of Christ who conscientiously and thoughtfully live their witness without profanity. People learn from what they read. Characters influence readers.
I remember how much I learned about life from the fiction I read as a small child: The Five Little Peppers series, Little Women, and Rose in Bloom. These taught me conduct, the value of prayer and faith, and consideration. What I read, I mimicked. (The point being made, I won't speak of the preteen years where I read stuff I wouldn't read today, which, of course, affected me negatively.)
There is value in Christian romance as characters respect themselves and others, and pay a price if they don't. Rather than being strictly social, a fall gives opportunity to learn of forgiveness, grace, and redemption. Compare Anna Karenina to Angel in Redeeming Love. In real life, who doesn't need forgiveness, grace, and redemption?
Fictional stories that have impacted me are Coming Home, These Is My Words, Love Comes Softly, Color the Sidewalk for Me, and Demon. A great story will endure even amateur writing, for example, The Shack. (The title alone scared me into avoiding it for months. The story stays with me because it bears truth.)
In spite of my initial disclaimer, there is an element of romance in each of these books, regardless of genre. Yes, even Demon and The Shack are stories of God's love for us, His Bride. He is sooo in love with us!
A recent study at York University found fiction readers were more compassionate in real life than non-fiction readers. Reading activated the part of the brain dealing with emotive response, with empathy. In other words, the reader learned from a vicarious experience. Fascinating, and not simply because it backs up what I've always believed: stories are powerful. Jesus knew this. He engaged the crowd through parables.
Most authors know this at some level, too. So, where's the romance in your stories? Is it overt or covert? What emotional/relational threads enhance your sci-fi, fantasy, or crime novel? Who are you hoping to influence? What romantic ribbon of any genre impacted you? Speak up, writers. I'd love to hear your comments.